A Windows Mobile OS You Might Actually Want
Over the past 7 or so years, Microsoft has carefully dragged the Windows Mobile brand in the mud. Of course, it started out as Pocket PC, but some of us would much rather forget those days. In any case, WinMo has had a lot of issues over the years and got pummeled by Blackberry and Apple in market share because Microsoft simply wasn't being competitive enough in innovation. As such, rumors of a Zune Phone have been around since the Zune hit the market and created a small fan base. While those rumors never quite materialized, out of their ashes has emerged Windows Phone 7, which is more or less a re-branding of Windows Mobile.
I recommend watching the videos that Engadget has posted from the announcement last week because seeing is really believing here - this UI is slick. It very much feels inspired by the same design principles that inspired the Zune, but it's still set apart a bit from the Zune UI in that it clearly looks more geared towards a mobile PC experience. It's visually dominated by clean typography and screens that seem to be horizontally very long to encourage side-to-side navigation. It also aims to plug you into the Internet more easily and automagically kind of like the live widgets familiar to Android users.
While there's no Flash support, it's gotten at least as much good press as the iPad has gotten bad press. I like Gizmodo's wording of the UI as being "function-centric". It's not centered around screens of apps, just a simple interface for exactly what you care about. Despite all this buzz though, I don't know if Microsoft will succeed here. Palm made a big splash around this time last year with webOS and Palm is arguable a more respected name in mobile phones than Microsoft. They released the Pre in the summer and they're still struggling despite critical acclaim for the Pre and Pixi. Microsoft's timeline is this winter, so do they stand a chance in a world where 9 months can mean 1-3 major mobile OS upgrades for Android, webOS, and the iPhone?
Well, I'll admit that they have an ace in the hole: Xbox Live. The way to market phones nowadays tends to be around a specific feature that it does really well. It may do other things decently well but being the biggest player in one specific feature can really help move merchandise. The strategy with Blackberry was for enterprise users and heavy texters and for Palm with webOS it was multi-tasking. I'm sure there will be little independent games on Windows Phone 7 like on other phones, but the real killer feature here would be cross-platform gaming, which is exactly what Microsoft is proposing. Being able to play a casual game on your Xbox 360 from Xbox Live Arcade against someone on their phone is an awesome idea. I can already picture the ad of a dad on a business trip playing Bomberman on his phone from LAX against his son who's at home on their Xbox 360. Past just casual games like this though would be a concept pioneered by Sega with the Dreamcast, which was way ahead of its time. Remember those VMU thingies? Where you could play little mini-games on them? What if you could play a Mass Effect 2 mini-game on your phone that integrated with the storyline from your Xbox 360 Mass Effect 2 saved game? If I had an Xbox 360, I would most definitely buy a Windows Phone 7 for an extended experience like that. Sony has tried to bring together the PS3 with the PSP and had limited success, but it requires people to buy a gaming device whereas everyone needs a cell phone these days.
While we're still in hype mode right now with Windows Phone 7 and the videos show how unpolished it is in terms of speed and bugginess, it's a very cool concept. There's no guarantee that it'll be enough to bail out Windows Mobile, but after seeing all I've seen I really hope it ends up standing a chance.
In Other Mobile News...
Hey, it was Mobile World Congress week so last week was all cell phone news.
Nokia and Intel have teamed up to create MeeGo, a new Linux-based mobile OS designed to work on all mobile devices, not just cell phones, and is basically a re-imagining of Intel's Moblin OS. I think they basically took a good look at the iPhone and Android and decided that they were in big trouble. Given that this is all we know, it's not promising. Nokia doesn't have a great track record for clean UIs, but Intel still has the power to popularize this OS at least among netbooks and tablets and it is going to be an open source OS. The official site says that the development platform will be C++, which may make it more attractive for people used to writing Objective C for the iPhone, but C++ is definitely not as popular a language as it once was.
The HTC has named its successor to the Nexus One: Desire. It's an Android 2.1 device with the same Snapdragon processor and sports a beautiful AMOLED multi-touch screen. I can't get enough of AMOLED - it's too awesome. The main difference from the Nexus one is that the trackball is gone in favor of the Sense UI, which is HTC's UI built on top of Android that was introduced with the HTC Hero. So nothing terrible new here, but it is probably the next big Android phone.
Adobe announced that Air is slated to be available on Android later this year (I think in the first half of the year), and they stated their grand plan of developers writing applications on the Flash platform to work on all phones that don't have "iPhone" in their name. As much as Apple doesn't want to admit it, Flash is big. HTML 5 isn't here yet and everyone already uses Flash for mobile video and a lot of casual online games. I think Flash may be in trouble in 2012 when HTML 5 has hopefully caught on, but for right now it's an interesting proposition that developers can put mobile video widgets on their site via Flash that will work on a lot of non-iPhone phones. It's not going to kill Apple, but it would certainly be a thorn in its side if Flash ends up being implemented well (read: stable and power-efficient). Plus, developers could just develop some applications to just be for the iPhone OS and then for Air and that could end up covering an enormous majority of the market. Like any good conference, this is all just pie in the sky talk for right now. It won't be long before we see what happens, especially with the Pre expected to get Flash support in an OS update before the end of the week.
Why You Should be Scared of Apple
This post simply wouldn't be complete without covering this article from Cracked. It grew to be quite popular. Despite all the great things that Apple has done for technology in the past 30 years, they're riddled with problems that people like to pretend don't exist. It doesn't make you a bad person if you have an iPhone just because Apple does a lot of bad stuff, but it's worth knowing the things they do behind closed doors, like run campaigns of fear against their own employees and take extreme measures to combat leaks. When an employee of an Apple contractor commits suicide because he's being tortured over a prototype he accidentally lost, that's a really bad sign.
The real issue with Apple is the amount of control they continue to wield over their products. It's hard to cheer for someone who makes massive innovations in a technology only to cripple it with restrictions that don't make sense. The app store on the iPhone is a prime example of that, but it's not much better that they use updates for programs like iTunes to sneak other unrelated software on users' computers. I think stories like this are important to know because I believe corporations should be held accountable not only by their shareholders but by their customers. Ultimately, Apple is only around because of the people who buy their products, and their lack of regard for what customers really care about kind of sucks. It'd just be nice to see that change because they clearly have a lot of talent in Cupertino and they can really pump out some impressive hardware.
Yahoo Going the Way of Alta Vista
PC World posted a fun little editorial posing the question of whether or not Yahoo is becoming another Alta Vista. I definitely had a chuckle when I read the title because I remember trying Alta Vista back in the days when people thought Yahoo was the Internet. They're really hitting heavy stagnation when it comes to innovation and a home page that's attractive at all, and it's unfortunate to see them fall like this but they're totally being undercut by Bing. Even though Bing isn't a new player under the hood, it's very telling how quickly Microsoft was able to usurp mindshare from Yahoo.
And now the stories I have very little to say about.
Flash 10.1 will support porn mode - I mean private browsing. You have to admit that it's kind of funny how quickly the whole "private browsing" feature has caught on.
40% of US households do not have broadband, and 38% of those people aren't interested in getting it. That's really terrible. The industry and the government clearly aren't doing a good enough job helping the Internet fit in people's lives.
Google Gears is dying in favor of HTML 5. I think everyone saw that coming as soon as they heard about HTML 5.
Maximum PC has a really good roundup of useful web applications. They're not all winners, but most of them truly are really good.
Lastly, this image very aptly sums up the truth about how annoying DVDs have become nowadays. Do the studios not watch their own DVDs? How does all that crap not irritate them?
Have a great last week of February, everyone! Oh February 2010, we hardly knew thee.
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